Guest Post: Will Austrian Bank Woes Be Again the Catalyst For A European Kondratieff Winter?
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/10/2014 15:07 -0500
Originally posted at The Prudent Investor blog,
Sad affairs have been heating up in the tiny Alpine republic in the center of the European Union. While Austria experiences record unemployment at record growth rates and tax revenues have fallen behind optimistic projections, the looming bankruptcy of a mid-sized regional bank, Hypo Group Alpe Adria (HGAA), may propel the country to the disdained position of being the catalyst for a new round of bank failures due to interwoven banks risks on both the domestic and the international level.
Austrian politicians are up in arms since a third-party expert opinion that recommends to wind down the bank at a cost of €18 billion has been leaked to the media, but keep on marching on the most fatal route that will not dissolve the problems: They keep flogging the dead horse HGAA with taxpayer's millions in a monthly money injection routine that has cost so far around €4.5 billion.
Current talks involving politicians appear to be more adequately suited for the Vienna opera house, but not for a rolling high finance train wreck that needs more than monthy band aids.
On Monday Austrian financial market authority FMA publicly said what the official Austria never wanted to hear as it is now confronted with a widening public discussion on a problem it had surrealstically hoped to brush under the carpet. FMA head Harald Ettl warned that any further delay would make the – in this blogger's humble opinion doomed HGAA – an incalculable risk and that Austria should consider no option as a taboo anymore.
Nothing could be more true. An unorderly liquidation of HGAA will not only push Austria from the throne of the best economy in the Eurozone, pushing its public debt to GDP ratio well over 100%, but will also have continent wide reverberations.
Bad Bank Idea Stopped In its Tracks by RBI
The governments preferred solution, a bad bank for HGAA with the other Austrian banks as shareholders was stopped in its tracks on Monday.
Raiffeisenbank International (RBI) CEO Karl Sevelda ruled out his participation in such a special purpose vehicle, claiming his shareholders will vote "no" on this issue. RBI is laden down with its own problems like a 3-digit billion exposure to ailing Central Easter Europe's countries where it had applied an aggressive "growth before everything else" strategy that is now becoming a boomerang due to to mounting bad loans.
The government was desperate to push through such a bad bank scenario as this would have helped to avoid a rapid expansion in public debts. Without a bad bank HGAA's debts would trigger guarantees from the owner, the province of Carinthia. As Carinthia is technically bankrupt itself this would lead to triggering state guarantees as Austrian laws do not provide for the bankruptcy of a province.
The FMA's comments on HGAA will at least have one effect: Fingerpointing between those responsible for the whole mess has already begun. Austria's central bank, which issued a "no problem" expertise about HGAA at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, is more focussed on avoiding investor litigation that could hit the institution based on this old "expertise."
So where do we go from here? As a dyed in the wool Austrian it can be assumed that the Austrian grand coalition, under fire from all sides since its formation last November because it has only come up with new tax ideas but no sizable savings in its expenditures, will apply the ostrich strategy once more.
Alas, this time the government may not find the time to sip coffee and push the debt wagon further as the EU is watching developments closely. On Monday Daniele Nouy, head of the newly formed EU banking authority EBA warned in an interview with the Financial Times, that it may not be appropriate to merge very sick banks with their not so sick counterparts. While not naming HGAA directly Nouy said, "we have to accept, that some banks will disappear."
Austria's banking woes look eerily similar to the failure of Creditanstalt in 1931 that was the fuse for the last European Kondratieff winter. For those sticking with K-cycles this may not be a good outlook. 83 years later such an event is more than overdue in Europe and given Europe's overall outlook it does not take much anymore to set the Great EU Chaos into full fledged motion.
Chart: The Long Wave Analyst
"Breathtaking" Corruption In Europe
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/10/2014 12:12 -0500
Submitted by Pater Tenebrarum of Acting-Man blog,
A recent article at the BBC discusses the findings of a report by EU Home Affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem on corruption in the EU. According to the report, the cost of corruption in the EU amounts to €120 billion annually. We would submit that it is likely far more than that (in fact, even Ms. Malmstroem herself concurs with this assessment).This is of course what one gets when one installs vast, byzantine bureaucracies and issues a veritable flood of rules and regulations every year. More and more people are needed to administer this unwieldy nightmare of red tape, and naturally the quality of the hires declines over time due to the sheer numbers required.
Moreover, many small to medium sized businesses would probably not be able to survive if they didn't occasionally bribe officials. Big business considers bribes a perfectly normal cost of business anyway, especially when the business concerned involves milking tax cows. As you will see further below, the defense business – or better the war racket – is especially prone to corruption. Tax payers of course end up paying every cent. Another sector that is apparently subject to widespread corruption is health care – which should be no surprise, since health care provision is an almost fully socialistic enterprise in Europe. Bribes may well mean the difference between life and death in some instances. You will probably also not be overly surprised to learn that there was VAT fraud amounting to €5 billion in the bizarre and totally ineffective and useless 'carbon credits' market, which has turned into a boondoggle of amazing proportions. There's simply no other way of making a mint in that market we suppose. From the BBC:
“The extent of corruption in Europe is "breathtaking" and it costs the EU economy at least 120bn euros (£99bn) annually, the European Commission says. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem has presented a full report on the problem.She said the true cost of corruption was "probably much higher" than 120bn. Three-quarters of Europeans surveyed for the Commission study said that corruption was widespread, and more than half said the level had increased."The extent of the problem in Europe is breathtaking, although Sweden is among the countries with the least problems," Ms Malmstroem wrote in Sweden's Goeteborgs-Posten daily.The cost to the EU economy is equivalent to the bloc's annual budget. For the report the Commission studied corruption in all 28 EU member states. The Commission says it is the first time it has done such a survey.National governments, rather than EU institutions, are chiefly responsible for fighting corruption in the EU.[…]In some countries there was a relatively high number reporting personal experience of bribery. In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, between 6% and 29% of respondents said they had been asked for a bribe, or had been expected to pay one, in the past 12 months. There were also high levels of bribery in Poland (15%), Slovakia (14%) and Hungary (13%), where the most prevalent instances were in healthcare.[..]Last year Europol director Rob Wainwright said VAT fraud in the carbon credits market had cost the EU about 5bn euros.”
And that is merely what they actually know about. Remember, there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns here as well, and they probably dwarf what is actually known. One gets an inkling of how big the problem may really be when considering the case of Greece.
The EU corruption map according to the official report – via BBC.
Bribes Exceeding Greek Official's Memory Storage Capacity
Greece is of course a special case in terms of official corruption. If you ever wondered how the country could go bankrupt in such short order after joining the euro zone, wonder no longer. Here are a few excerpts from a recent article in the NYT about a lower level official in the defense ministry who received so many bribes that he cannot even remember them all anymore. The amounts involved are astonishing:
“When Antonis Kantas, a deputy in the Defense Ministry here, spoke up against the purchase of expensive German-made tanks in 2001, a representative of the tank's manufacturer stopped by his office to leave a satchel on his sofa. It contained 600,000 euros ($814,000).Other arms manufacturers eager to make deals came by, too, some guiding him through the ins and outs of international banking and then paying him off with deposits to his overseas accounts.At the time, Mr. Kantas, a wiry former military officer, did not actually have the authority to decide much of anything on his own. But corruption was so rampant inside the Greek equivalent of the Pentagon that even a man of his relatively modest rank, he testified recently, was able to amass nearly $19 million in just five years on the job.”
One certainly wonders what more powerful officials were able to skim off. Unfortunately, corruption is so widespread and reportedly involves the highest echelons of the bureaucracy and the body politic in Greece, so that one must expect that we will never find out. No wonder there is a lot of tax evasion in Greece: who wants to hand over his hard earned money to such a gang of thieves? It is like paying off the mafia.
Meanwhile, the companies paying the bribes are of course just as guilty, and many of them come from countries that are themselves ranked relatively low on the corruption scale – e.g. Germany and Sweden. It seems to be an 'opportunity makes thieves' type situation.
“Never before has an official opened such a wide window on the eye-popping system of payoffs at work inside a Greek government ministry.At various points, Mr. Kantas, who returned to testify again last week, told prosecutors he had taken so many bribes he could not possibly remember the details.[…]Mr. Kantas's testimony, if accurate, illustrates how arms makers from Germany, France, Sweden and Russia passed out bribes liberally, often through Greek representatives, to sell the government weaponry that it could ill afford and that experts say was in many cases overpriced and subpar.The 600,000 euros, for instance, bought Mr. Kantas's silence on the tanks, which were deemed of little value in any wars Greece might fight, according to Constantinos P. Fraggos, an expert on the Greek military who has written several books on the subject. Greece went ahead and bought 170 of the tanks for about $2.3 billion.Adding to the absurdity of the purchase (almost all of it on credit), the ministry bought virtually no ammunition for them,Mr. Fraggos said. It also bought fighter planes without electronic guidance systems and paid more than $4 billion for troubled, noisy submarines that are not yet finished and sit today virtually abandoned in a shipyard outside Athens. At the height of the crisis, when it was unclear whether Greece would be thrown out of the euro zone and long before the submarines were finished, the Greek Parliament approved a final $407 million payment for the German submarines.”[…]The Defense Ministry is hardly the only ministry suspected of being a hotbed of corruption. But the Defense Ministry makes a particularly rich target for investigators because Greece went on a huge spending spree after 1996 when it got into a low-level skirmish with Turkey over the Imia islets in the Aegean Sea.One former director general of the Defense Ministry, Evangelos Vasilakos, calculated that Greece spent as much as $68 billion on weaponry over the next 10 years, much of it borrowed money. To win these deals, which involved the approval of military and Defense Ministry officials, as well as Parliament, arms dealers probably spent more than $2.7 billion on bribes, according to Tasos Telloglou, an investigative reporter for the Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini, who has written extensively on the subject.”
Buying $68 billion worth of largely useless weaponry is certainly quite a feat for a country of slightly over 11 million inhabitants. The Saudis may well be able to top that on a per capita basis, but they have a lot of oil money and haven't required a bailout from anyone. Greece was not able to actually afford these expensive toys.
Even if the weapons were in perfect working order, this buying spree wouldn't make any sense. Is Greece really going to fight a war with Turkey, a NATO partner? The very idea is absurd. Since we can rule this possibility out, what on earth are the weapons good for?
We can hereby amend Randolph Bourne's famous saying: 'War is the health of the State – and its minions and suppliers'.
Say hello to a white elephant in the Greek shrubbery.
Farage Blasts "Bullying Brussels", Cheers Swiss Immigration Curbs Bill
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/10/2014 13:53 -0500
Switzerland's surprise decision in favor of curbing EU immigration, was greeted by UKIP's Nigel Farage as "wonderful news for national sovereignty and freedom lovers throughout Europe." With 50.3% of Swiss voters backing the "Stop Mass Immigration" bill proposed by right-wing populists, AFP reports that Farage (who has been outspoken over immigration and sovereignty problems in Europe) added "a wise and strong Switzerland has stood up to the bullying and threats of the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels." As we noted previously, with the EU elections rapidly approaching non-centrist status quo parties are quickly gaining attention as 'the protest vote' gains traction.
The leader of Britain's main eurosceptic party hailed "wise" Swiss voters Sunday for backing curbs on EU immigration, saying it would encourage others across the continent.Nigel Farage, the head of the UK Independence Party, said Switzerland had stood up to "bullying" from Brussels and that it was "not a matter of race but of space.""This is wonderful news for national sovereignty and freedom lovers throughout Europe," said Farage, who is a member of the European parliament (MEP)."A wise and strong Switzerland has stood up to the bullying and threats of the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels."Final results from a referendum showed that 50.3 percent of Swiss voters had backed the "Stop Mass Immigration" proposal pushed byright-wing populists, threatening to ignite a row with Brussels.UKIP has led calls for similar calls for a cap on immigration, a touchy issue in Britain since Bulgarians and Romanians were given full rights on January 1 to free movement within the European Union.Farage added: "It is a great thing to be welcomed that the Swiss people now have the freedom to decide the number and skill level of the people who they wish to invite to work or stay in their country.""It is not a matter of race but of space, of numbers and of skills," he said.
Of course this move is a blow for a Europe "run by big banks, big business, and big government" as Farage has described it in the past but we thoght this brief discussion from the UK (Boston, Lincolnshire) was useful in summing up the rising tensions from both the people and non-status-quo politicians looking for change...
It would seems to us that one 'event' that no one is discussing as a catalyst is the EU elections and here, from El Pais, is a very enlightening graphic showing the considerable growth in "Extreme Right" parties across the entire European region:
Whether, as Farage has warned in the past, we remain on the verge of social unrest is unclear but for sure this is not the poltical union that Barroso pitches it to have become...